Overcoming existential dread and getting stuff (writing) done

Dang, there’s been a lot of existential dread in my life lately. (Okay, probably everyone’s life lately. None are immune from at least occasional existential dread.) Last fall, my grandmother was very ill. There was a while we thought she wouldn’t make it, and then a long recovery afterwards where I was at the hospital every day, or nearly every day. That pretty much torpedoed my initial deadline for Accidental Futures. It was just impossible to work when I was up at the hospital and when I wasn’t I was either working so I could still get paid or coming down from being stressed out by completely slacking off.

Creativity was just not on the table.

I had really just gotten over that when the election and surrounding chaos happened. I was overwhelmed with worry. I got married because it might be my last chance. I wondered if I needed to find a full-time job, even if it was at somewhere like working the checkout at Target, for stability and healthcare. I updated my resume. I applied to jobs. I got no responses.

And, of course, the latest thing is finding out I have a brain tumor. Talk about existential dread. Not only is this going to be expensive to fix (even with my fairly decent health insurance, it’s going to empty my savings account), having brain surgery is not exactly minor. While this is really the least serious kind of brain tumor I could possibly have, any kind of brain tumor is serious. Best case is four hours in surgery and a couple of days in the hospital, some of it in ICU. Because it’s brain surgery.

After finding that out, creativity was definitely not on the table, at least not immediately. After each of these curve balls, it’s been a struggle to get back in the game.

Tldr: it is really hard to get things done when you’re scared, stressed, and anxious. It can be hard to focus because your brain keeps flitting off to your worst fears while you’re trying to get stuff done. Sometimes I just brute force my way through work, “I just need to finish this one thing and then I’ll take a break.” But trying to work when you can’t focus often means spending twice as long doing the work. Sometimes you have to walk away, figure out some way to clear your head, and come back later. And sometimes you just don’t manage to come back later. Distractions are easy; focus is hard.

So it means it’s been tougher for me to get the work that pays my bills done, which leaves less time for creative stuff. (And then I start stressing about not getting enough done and making the cycle even worse!) Out of the 24 hours in every day, I wonder how many I lose to just freaking out about the state of my life.  Or how much all of us lose. Probably a lot.

But I know I’m not alone on the stress front. I’ve been seeing similar chatter from a lot of creatives. I think it’s a universal truth that it’s hard to do work when you’re stressed out.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to see John Scalzi, who is a real deal writer type person. He’s doing a book tour, and while doing some Q&A, he talked a bit about this existential dread — and said he probably only finished his current book because his wife threatened to break his fingers if he got on social media. When he turned it in, his publisher said that a lot of authors were missing deadlines this spring.

I had never seriously thought I was the only person having this type of experience, and hadn’t expected to feel so relieved when Scalzi suggested others were dealing with the same thing. Even the professionals. That’s apparently writer life for you.

If there’s one person I look up to right now, it’s Matthew Rossi (who has a Patreon you should check out). Chances are you know him: he’s a long-time WoW Insider and Blizzard Watch guy, and he’s written three books in the last twelve months. Three! This is despite the fact that he’s in the middle of an incredibly tough situation himself. I’m trying very hard to emulate Rossi, but not doing a terribly good job of it.

So progress is slower than I’d like (especially since I’m trying to get ahead on paying work, since surgery will cut into my working time), but progress is still happening. If other people can do it, so can I.

Thanks for reading, everyone. For my next post I’ll try to do something that’s a bit more about the craft of writing and a bit less about the struggle of writing.

If you like the stuff I write (here and elsewhere), you can always support me on Patreon. But all support, whether it’s financial, reading my work, or chatting with me on Twitter, is very much appreciated. Especially in this existential dread phase, moral support counts for a lot!

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